Beowulf shows integrity in several ways in the epic poem Beowulf, but first, what characteristics define integrity?
Integrity by its definition means to follow through on one’s word, be honest, loyal, and in general, a person of good moral character. In Beowulf, several characteristics to look for that specifically show his integrity include those listed above as well as a few others, such as fairness, reliability, and being respectful. Integrity even finds itself connected with honor (part of the heroic code, which Beowulf follows). A person with integrity is truthful and honest with themselves as well as others and has the best of intentions to not do anything that would be dishonorable.
An example of a person with integrity is someone who means what they say and supports what they say through their actions. Someone with integrity will pay their rent on time, and if for some reason they find themselves unable to one month, they will notify their landlord and work out an agreement to pay the rent. Then, that person follows through by paying the rent as agreed.
A person without integrity neither pays the rent nor notifies the landlord. Instead, they’ll wait for the landlord to contact them and ask for the rent. They will agree to pay based on the landlord's terms, but do not fulfill their promise. They lack honesty, respect, fairness, and reliability.
In Beowulf, there are dozens of examples of Beowulf showing integrity, but we’ll look at just a few. Near the beginning of the poem (part 12), Beowulf shows integrity in his desire to travel a far distance to help the Danes slay the monster Grendel, then Grendel’s mother, even at the risk of his own life. We first see integrity in Beowulf when he speaks respectfully to the guards on the cliffs by identifying himself, his men, and his intentions. Lines 425–440 of Beowulf are a leading example:
Now I mean to be a match for Grendel,
Settle the outcome in single combat.
And so, my request, O king of the Bright-Danes,
Dear prince of the Shieldings, friend of the people
And their ring of defense, my one request
Is that you won’t refuse me, who have come this far,
The privilege of purifying Heorot,
With my own men to help me, and nobody else.
I have heard moreover that the monster scorns
In his reckless way to use weapons;
Therefore, to heighten Hygelac’s fame
And gladden his heart, I hereby renounce
sword and the shelter of the broad shield,
the heavy war-board: hand-to-hand
is how it will be, a life-and-death
fight with the fiend.
Likewise, Beowulf promises the Danes and King Hrothgar personally that he will free the kingdom of this monster, and he follows through with his promise as seen in lines 736–752:
With open claw when the alert hero’s
Comeback and armlock forestalled him utterly.
The captain of evil discovered himself
In a handgrip harder than anything
He had ever encountered in any man
On the face of the earth. Every bone in his body
Quailed and recoiled, but he could not escape.
He was desperate to flee to his den and hide
With the devil’s litter, for in all his days
He had never been clamped or cornered like this.
And in lines 812 - 819:
Hygelac’s kinsman kept him helplessly
Locked in a handgrip. As long as either lived,
He was hateful to the other. The monster’s whole
body was in pain, a tremendous wound
Appeared on his shoulder. Sinews split
And the bone-lappings burst. Beowulf was granted
The glory of winning . . .
Beowulf then goes into the sea after Grendel’s mother, after she attacks the mead hall. After slaying the mother and returning to the mead hall, Beowulf at one point says:
In keeping with my promise, you and your
company of earls may now sleep without
care, as you formerly slept."
Afterward, King Hrothgar commends Beowulf during his celebratory speech:
Lo! that one may say, who speaks
truth and right and remembers every-
thing of old, that this earl was born better
than others. My friend Beowulf, your
fame is established throughout wide ways.
Additionally, as Beowulf and his men prepare to leave for home, Beowulf says to Hrothgar:
'Lo! we sea-travelers wish to say that
we intend to seek Higelac. Thou hast
been gracious and we have been cared
for here according to our desires. If at
any time, I may gain more of thy love
than I have now, I shall be ready at once
to wage battle.